Losing players off your offensive line like guard Wyatt Davis and center Josh Myers is a legitimate reason for concern.
Toss in backup guard Gavin Cupp who is also gone and you might start worring about a crisis.
Not at Ohio State.
The Buckeyes certainly have a rebuilding job to do in the middle of the offensive line but some effective recruiting coupled with focused and determined candidates for jobs is making the rebuilding job a lot less daunting.
The Buckeye offensive line philosophy is that the best five players will play. The task then becomes determining who those players are and where they fit in. At tackle OSU returns Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere. That combination was one of the best combinations in the nation last year and is striving to be better this year. Munford and Petite-Frere will hold down the two tackle spots, but naming a center and two guards to round out the top five is a whole lot trickier at this point, not because of a lack of candidates, but because of a flood of good ones.
At center there are two bona-fide blue-chippers and a new name that is making a move this spring. Matt Jones saw action last season in a backup role and performed well when he got onto the field late in the season due to injuries. Jones can play both center and guard but is being looked at most as a replacement for Myers at center.
“He may be one of our most improved players,” said offensive line coach Greg Studrawa. “He has always had the physical tools but its like the light came on when he got some experience and some success last year. He is much more focused on details and is working hard to win a job. I’m very excited about him,” said Studrawa.
Studrawa loves what he sees in Jones, but that doesn’t mean the job is won. Anything but, really, because there is another player at center that has caught his eye as well. That player is redshirt freshman Luke Wypler.
“He has that New Jersey grit,” said Studrawa.
He also has talent and determination. Coming out of high school he was rated the top center prospect in the nation. Like Jones, he has shown tremendous dedication to winning a job.
“After we lost the national championship game most of our players went home for two weeks,” said Studrawa. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but Luke didn’t do that. The day after the game I got a text from him that he was at the Woody doing drills and that he wanted to send me film of the drills so that I could critique them and let him know what he could do better. He didn’t have t do that, but that’s the kind of player that he is. I was very impressed,” Studrawa said.
Also in the mix at center is redshirt freshman Jakob James. James arrived at OSU with less fanfare than many recent recruits but has impressed the coaching staff with his progress and competitiveness.
There are even more candidates at guard.
As noted Matt Jones is a candidate at center but also is actually a candidate at the guard position if things don’t work out for him at center.
Blue-chip offensive tackle Parris Johnson arrived at OSU touted as the top tackle prospect in the nation, but with Petit-Frere and Munson both returning he was going to have a tough time getting on the field at tackle. The coaching staff suggested a move to guard, and Johnson has embraced that move and is working at right guard next to Petit-Frere in Davis’ vacated position.
“Moving from tackle to guard can be difficult, but Parris is doing a great job of it,” said Wypler. “He is a violent player and brings that violence on every play,” Wypler said.
Johnson has noticed the difference in the two positions but is just fine with the move.
“At tackle you play more on an island blocking one player,” said Johnson. “At guard you are always helping out the center or a tackle, so it’s different from that respect.”
Johnson has been impressive since making the move and has found ways to utilize his tackle skills at his new position.
“I still can look at a front or a linebacker or a safety and have a good idea what the defense is doing,” said Johnson. “That helps me out at guard as well.”
Other players vying for playing time at guard include Dewand Jones and Trey Larue, but the name that keeps popping up as a player who has come out of nowhere to really impress is redshirt freshman Josh Fryer. Fryer is another one of those players who was not highly heralded out of high school but who has really shown up as a Buckeye. It would not be surprise to anyone on the coaching staff if he ends up in the two-deep this fall or even wins a starting position.
“When we recruited him what I really liked about him was his athleticism,” said Studrawa. “He’s 6-5 but can bend and play low. He has grit and a toughness about him that I really liked and that is all showing up now.”
That’s a lot of candidates for two guard positions, but it’s not all, because Harry Miller will be in the mix just as soon as he returns from injury next fall. Miller got starting experience as a freshman last year and is expected to do whatever he can to win a starting position next fall. Miller can play center or guard.
Had enough? How about incoming freshman offensive lineman Donovan Jackson. The 308 pounder from Bellaire, Texas, was regarded the top guard prospect in the nation last year and will get a good look from the OSU coaching staff when he arrives on campus.
Picking the best five might be tough, but that’s the kind of tough problem a coaching staff love to have.